/. has some interesting comments about a story of a man who is suing PC manufacturer Gateway. He alledges Gateway wouldn’t fix a broken machine he bought, replace it nor refund his money. But the most interesting part is that Gateway doesn’t agree to be sued in court because an arbitration clause in their End User License Agreement (EULA) “require a dispute to be settled in private forums chosen by companies instead of in public courtrooms” (the man stated he can’t read the EULA since “the computer’s graphics were so scattered he couldn’t read the box of terms and conditions or click the Accept button”).
EULA were rarely enforced in court (I’m sure a bunch of them violate consumer protection laws). They are so many of them available, nearly one for each version of proprietary software. People rarely read them ; and people who do are confronted to legalese gibberish (a team of lawyers might not even agree on exactly what it means).
But there is one more thing that differentiate free from proprietary software: this license. Free software doesn’t need EULA. For a free software end-user, there should not be any need to read nor agree to obscure legal requirements stating, basically, that the company has all the rights and you don’t have any. Maybe free software can display a disclaimer, limiting the developers’liability in case of any problem (like all proprietary software EULAs do). What defines free software is the freedom of usage (“the freedom to run the program, for any purpose”) and distribution. A free software license is also there to ensure this freedom remains when you are distributing the software (either in a modified or unmodified form). No permission required. No strings attached.